Christmas is here, and, with it, anticipation of fruit cakes, school holidays, carols, scrumptuous feasts and good cheer. Apart from timeless classics such as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Carol Ann Duffy’s contemporary books on the spirit of Christmas, there are a host of fabulous books on the festival. Here are some forgotten ones that celebrate that spirit:
For those who followed the adventures of the young orphaned girl, Heidi, who comes to live with her paternal grandfather in the Swiss Alps, the name Johanna Spyri is a familiar one. But Spyri is also the author of a lesser-known Christmas fable — The Children’s Christmas Carol. (appropriate for: 6+ years). Now out of print (unless you are willing to shell out a hefty amount for first-edition copies online), the setting of this novel, too, is the Swiss Alps. The story centres around a widowed mother and her two children, Barty and Franzeli, whose poor fortunes makes the harsh Alpine winters a heavy burden to bear. But, endurance has its own rewards and the season of piety sees the children and their mother rewarded for their faith. Brimming with hope and good cheer, this is another feel-good book perfect for the season.
Elizabeth Yates weaves together two Christmas legends in Once in the Year: A Christmas Story (1947, appropriate for: 7+ years) through the story of a young boy, Peter, who wants to discover for himself the truth about the talking animals and the flowering forest one Christmas eve. After having heard his mother share stories of her childhood Christmases and Old Benj, the farm help, reminiscing about talking animals, Peter’s child-like curiosity and scepticism are met with a spectacle that he is unlikely to forget. “When something wonderful happens to people on Christmas Eve, it is to be cherished in the heart and in the mind,” his mother tells him, and, indeed, in this season of miracles, it turns out to be a memory of a lifetime.
A wordless children’s picture book is all kinds of wonderful, but there’s something especially nice about Raymond Briggs’ 1978 classic, The Snowman (appropriate for: all ages). A runner-up for the Kate Greenaway medal the same year, the book is about a little boy who makes a snowman one frosty Christmas morning. When it comes to life and takes him on a journey to meet Santa Claus, it’s an adventure like no other. The popularity of the book led to a television adaptation — wordless like the book, but for a song (Walking in the Air). Like the book, it, too, was an instant hit, going on to win several awards.
The author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L Frank Baum also wrote The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902, appropriate for: 5+ years). It begins with the discovery of the infant Santa in the forest of Burzee and his life in the Laughing Valley of Hohaho afterwards. Along the way, it also explains rituals and traditions such as the exchange of gifts, hanging up of stockings and decorating the Christmas tree, among other things.